Motorists in the Clogher Valley could be facing a long winter of road hell after it was revealed that because of service cuts local gritting lorries may have to travel a further 26 miles to load their vehicles.
The removal of gritting services from Fivemiletown Transport NI depot, which serves some of the most dangerous and remote roads in Northern Ireland, could potentially quadruple response times, an MLA has warned.
The Department of Infrastructure decision has alarmed UUP representative Rosemary Barton, who said that workers will be forced to travel a much longer distance on untreated roads in order to load their gritting lorries.
She said: “I am particularly concerned at the extra response time this will entail. Many workers at the Ballyvadden (Fivemiletown) Depot live in the Clogher Valley, and they will now be forced to travel a longer distance on un-gritted roads, to Moygashel, Enniskillen or Omagh in order to load their gritting lorries – again increasing the delay in their response to a callout.”
She went on to say that the changes will cause serious delays to the service.
“Localised weather disruptions, for example heavy snowfall in Fivemiletown, will add to the delay already caused by these changes.
“What would have been a fifteen or twenty minute turn-around time for gritters to be on the road, could now be over an hour. This depot covers a blue light route, a route which must be prioritised when it comes to gritting.”
In a response to the MLA’s concerns, Minister Chis Hazzard said the cuts were made as part of a ‘route optimisation’ exercise.
“A report arising from this exercise came up with recommendations for new routes which minimized the number of lorries involved in the gritting operation but which importantly did not compromise the length of time for completing gritting of all routes in the schedule”, he said.
“One of the outcomes of the route optimization exercise was that ‘routine’ salting operations will no longer be undertaken from the TransportNI depot in Fivemiletown. This means that the roads previously gritted from Fivemiletown Depot will in future be treated by lorries operating from Enniskillen, Omagh or Moygashel.
“The ‘new’ routes will deliver a reduced treatment time for all roads to a maximum of 3½ hours with 94% of all routes being completed within three hours. In addition almost 80 percent of all priority routes (Trunk Road Network) will now be completed within the first hour of gritting.
“All of the changes arising from the route optimization project will be implemented for the 2016/17 winter service season and the situation will be kept under review.”